Aaron Sorkin revealed the structure of one of the Steve Jobs biopic he's writing in an interview yesterday at the Hero Summit, an invite-only “theatrical-journalism event” hosted by the Daily Beast. It sounds surprisingly awesome. According to Sorkin — whose magisterial work with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook made him the obvious writing candidate — the upcoming feature will only have three 30 minute chapters, each shot in real-time. “And each of these 3 scenes will take place backstage before a product launch,” he said.
The products? The Macintosh, NeXT, and the iPod.
I’ve got to applaud Sorkin for the concept because it feels perfect on so many levels. Thanks to Walter Isaacson’s book of Jobs, most of us already know his life story up and down, so it’s questionable how much value a straightforward re-hash of the tale would add. That’s not to mention that other Jobs flick in the works, an indie production starring Ashton Kutcher. Back in May, Sorkin pondered the dilemma of simply retelling that story at the AllThingsD conference.
“It’s very difficult to shake the cradle-to-grave structure of a biography,” said Sorkin. ”Instead I’m going to identify the point of friction and focus on that.”
“It’s a little like writing about the Beatles," he continued, evidently aware of potential fanboy resentment. “There are so many people out there that know so much about him and that revere him. I just saw a minefield of disappointment. People may say…that you missed the really big thing that he did.”
Here’s the summit interview. Sorkin talks Jobs at around 22 minutes:
Sorkin’s product choices are on point. Each represents a different chapter in Jobs’s life. First is the original Mac, his seminal creation that unleashed the graphical user interface to the masses. Then comes NeXT, after Jobs was unceremoniously forced out of the company that he built and loved. Finally the iPod, the Walkman for a generation of downloaders with those trademark white earbuds that set the tone for Jobs’s triumphant comeback as chief of Apple.
The format will suit Sorkin’s familiar narrative style: snappy, heated conversations and witty repartees to drive both story and drama. Expect a lot of walk-and-talk between key Apple lieutenants, guys like hardware guru Phil Schiller, design impresario Jony Ive and software chief Scott Forstall. “It’s fascinating because I’m meeting with all the people in Steve’s life now, from Wozniak to all the people who were around for the Macintosh,” Sorkin said. “So I’ve been able to talk to these people who revere him in spite of the fact that he made all of them cry at one point or another. But he made all of them better at what they were doing.”
Sorkin believes Jobs, the tragic hero, is his perfect subject. “What I tend to gravitate toward is the difference between a good man and a great man. Someone who wants to do well and there are consequences,” he said. “There’s no point in writing about someone unless they’re flawed. Steve was certainly atypical and a genius and extremely difficult.”
The two weren’t close friends, but they have crossed paths. One time, Jobs called to ask for help with his Stanford commencement speech. Yeah, that one:
The last time they spoke, Jobs asked Sorkin to write a Pixar movie. “I had told him I love Pixar. I’d never seen a studio make this kind of difference in moviemaking. But that I didn’t think I would be able to make an inanimate object talk," Sorkin said. The response was classic Steve. “He said once you make them talk they won’t be inanimate anymore. But it was the way he said it that was so interesting to me. He might as well have said: Are you stupid? But it was warmer than that.”
Sorkin already has a grand finale in mind, the iconic Think Different campaign that toasted luminaries like Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan and Mahatma Gandhi. To refresh your memory, watch this unreleased version with Jobs narrating:
And Jobs discussing the campaign:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, that’s how it began,” Sorkin said. “If I can end the movie with that text, with that voiceover — if I can earn that ending, then I’ll have written a movie that I want to write.” And if he does end up achieving such a fitting ending — and it appears that he will — it will go a long way in solidifying the mesmerizing myth that is Steve Jobs, just as Sorkin vividly portrayed a certain (also tyrannical) Jobs-wannabe, transforming him from a ruthless, narcissistic nerd into a hoodied Hollywood hero worth cheering for. This is Sorkin at his very best, and it’s reasonable to expect more of the same with his surely entertaining big screen interpretation of man so often compared to Thomas Edison. Steve Jobs the legend, the innovator, the inventor. The charismatic, articulate leader. The crazy genius who bettered the world with his elegant devices, sumptuous keynotes and steely passion.
The hope is, of course, that the real Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s Jobs, doesn’t get lost amid all of that inspiration. The Jobs whose power of character brought about tears not just of joy but also sadness, frustration and despair. The grudgemaster-in-chief, the borrower of ideas and the jerk. The guy with a reality distortion field so strong he wrongly and hurtfully denied paternity of his first child. But this, my friends, is why we go to the movies.
Follow Alec on Twitter: @sfnuop